Music News & Reviews

Great American Brass Band Festival: Endurance in the key of change

The United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” in Manassas, Va.
The United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” in Manassas, Va. U.S. Army Band

Brass band means different things to different people.

To many listeners, a brass band is the patriotic instrument of John Philip Sousa, regaling audiences with rousing renditions of Stars and Stripes Forever and other flag-waving classics. For others, it means the long, languid and jubilant sounds of New Orleans. Then there are Latin sounds, big bands, marching bands, orchestral ensembles and many, many more.

The Great American Brass Band Festival aims to serve all of these styles.

“Every festival has to reinvent itself to keep the core of what it does well, saying, what else can we do and offer?” says Ron Holz, who leads the music programming for the event. “It’s innovation while maintaining the heart of the festival.”

A lot of that programming has been led in the past eight years by executive director Niki Kinkade, who has been behind distillery tours, art exhibits and children’s activities in addition to the music.

“We have such varying audiences to our events, so maintaining interests at all levels is what we are working toward,” Kinkade says.

This year, she cites new offerings, including an art festival featuring 16 artists from six states, kids art events and Thursday’s Brassanova cultural event. Kinkade says a lot of changes and additions are in response to audience feedback and changes in brass music. The 27-year-old festival enjoys a strong response, drawing more that 29,000 at last count and attracting 20 new sponsors this year.

But the focus is music, and Holz has a lot to be excited about this year.

“For the first time in the history of the festival, we have the top military band: the U.S. Army Band, and their subtitle is ‘Pershing’s Own,’ after General Pershing in World War I,” Holz says. “Their shows should be spectacular.”

Holz says the festival has always had a military band in its lineup, but getting the top brass — so to speak — has always been a challenge. “June and July are always the busiest months for the service bands in the greater Washington area,” he says. “It’s their busiest time for outdoor concerts and demonstrations, and they’re just going. This time, it actually worked out.”

A few New Orleans acts will be part of expanded programming at the festival, Holz says, including a Friday of “Bayou and Brass” at two locations in Danville.

The North Carolina Brass Band, led by University of Kentucky alum Brian Meixner, will be the first professional North American brass band to perform at the festival. It brings a taste of British-style brass bands to the event. The 2016 festival also will feature a favorite event from the past: a battle between two Civil War-era bands, representing the North (Wildcat Regiment Band of Home, Pa.) and the South (Saxton’s Cornet Band of Frankfort).

Unlike that war,, Holz says, the battle aims to keep things friendly.

“We did it five or six years ago, and people really liked it, so we thought it was time to bring that back,” Holz says. “I think we called it a tie last time.” That feature will be right before the grand finale by the U.S. Army Band on Sunday afternoon.

Even with the high-profile acts this year, Holz says the theme is community bands, as will be exemplified at a Saturday afternoon show with the fest’s longstanding host band the Advocate Band, along with the Central Kentucky Concert Band, Madison Community Band and the Capitol City Band.

“One of the great traditions in the music of America has been the community band,” Holz says.

But the festival isn’t bound by tradition alone. Holz, who has been with the event since its inception in 1990, is transitioning out of his leadership role and and says the festival is looking to the future.

“We’re always looking for,how do we infuse new things into it, whether it’s how do we expand the offerings Thursday or Friday, or making sure that when we use a traditional outline, we make the programming exciting within that context,” Holz says.

It is the retired Asbury University music professor’s penultimate year leading the music programming for the festival, which he says will be handed off to a new group after next year. “I think it’s time for the next guys to take over.”

If you go

Great American Brass Band Festival

When: Through June 5.

Where: Danville, unless otherwise noted. Locations vary.

Admission: Events are free, unless otherwise noted.


Call: 859-319-8426

Selected schedule of events

June 3

8:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Brass Symposium, Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts. $75 general, $25 students. See website for schedule.

4:30-6 p.m. Shaker Village Concert featuring the Wildcat Regiment, 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg

7-8:30 p.m. Beaumont Inn Concert featuring Bull Dog Brass and Phil Smith, 638 Beaumont Inn Drive, Harrodsburg

5-8 p.m. Balloon Race with performance by the Ceremonial Band of the Waterloo Regional Police Service, Stuart Powell Field, 420 Airport Road

Bayou & Brass

Constitution Square

Noon-1:30 p.m. Storyville Stompers

1:45-2:45 p.m. Walnut Street Ramblers

3-4 p.m. Bayou Jam Session (any musician invited)

4-4:45 p.m. Danville Dance Company Cajun dance lessons and performance

4:45 p.m. General Public: Meet in Front of Main Stage to participate in Second Line Parade

4:45-5 p.m. Discussion & History of Second Line

5-5:20 p.m. Second Line parade through Downtown Danville to Weisiger Park

Main Street

5:30-6:30 p.m. Storyville Stompers

6:30-7:30 p.m. Street Performances with Scott Kirby

7:30-8 p.m. Circle City Sidewalk Stompers

8-10 p.m. Most Wanted Brass Band

June 4

Various locations

8-9:30 a.m. Run for the Brass with Circle City Sidewalk Stompers

9:30-10:15 a.m. Yoga in the Park

10:30-10:15 p.m. Festival Market

11 a.m.-noon. People’s Main Street Parade

11 a.m.-10 p.m. Food Village

Noon-5 p.m. Great American Quilt Show

Noon-6:30 p.m. Great American Art Festival

Noon-4 p.m. Free Children’s Activities

1-3:30 p.m. Kids Art Festival

Weisiger Park Stage

9-9:50 a.m. Advocate Brass Band Children’s Program

10-10:50 a.m. University of Georgia Bull Dog Brass and Philip Smith

11 a.m.-noon. Main Street Parade

Noon-12:50 p.m. North Carolina Brass Band

1-1:50 p.m. Ceremonial Police Band

2-2:50 p.m. Wildcat Regiment

3-3:50 p.m. Chapel Brass

Main Stage at Centre College

Noon-12:45 p.m. Central Kentucky Concert Band

1-1:45 p.m. Army Band with Saxton’s Cornet Band

2-2:45 p.m. Madison Community Band

3-3:45 p.m. Capital City Concert Band

4-4:45 p.m. Circle City on Walnut Street

4-5 p.m. Scott Kirby presentation at Norton Center

5-5:40 p.m. UGA Bulldog Brass with Philip Smith

Great American Picnic Concerts

6-6:40 p.m. Advocate Brass Band

6:55-7:40 p.m. North Carolina Brass Band

7:55-8:55 p.m. U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own”

9:10-9:55 p.m. The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass with Wycliffe Gordon

10:10-11:10 p.m. Storyville Stompers

June 5

8-9 a.m. Ride with the Wheelmen

11 a.m.-4 p.m. Food Village

Noon-5 p.m. Great American Quilt Show

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Great a.m.erican Art Festival

10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Festival Market

Main Stage at Centre College

9:15-10:30 a.m. Community Church Service

11-11:50 a.m. Chapel Brass with Phil Smith

Noon-12:50 p.m. North Carolina Brass Band

1-1:50 p.m. The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass w/ Wycliffe Gordon

2-2:50 p.m. Battle of Bands: Wildcat Regiment and Saxton’s (front of stage)

3-4:20 p.m. Grand Finale: U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own”